Newcomers have a dizzying array of options when they enter the accounting profession and as their careers progress. Accounting is a diverse field with endless possibilities, and entry-level accounting jobs can range from data entry to auditing to financial analysis and beyond.
Entry-level accounting jobs can also take you on several career paths in virtually any industry. Often, your first decision is whether to pursue public vs. private accounting. If you’re a college graduate, you might choose to work for one of the Big Four public accounting firms. Later, you might take the leap to the corporate world. Or if you have a special interest in, say, solving financial mysteries, you might head right to banking or law enforcement, where you could pursue a forensic accounting path.
You probably have questions at this point about what jobs are in demand, how much money you can make, and whether you need more education or certifications. We’ll tackle some of those topics here.
What are the education requirements?
Your level of education will typically determine what entry-level accounting jobs you can get. For example, positions as a bookkeeper or accounting clerk may require just a high school diploma or an associate’s degree. Once you have your four-year accounting degree, jobs as an accountant become a possibility. If you’re pursuing a CPA career, you need a bachelor’s degree in accounting, finance or business, and additional graduate-level work, such as a master’s in business administration or an accelerated five-year accounting program.
What are the public accounting prospects?
Many new entrants to the profession consider an entry-level job in public accounting to be an essential first stop on their career path. The reasons are simple: A public accounting background is a resume-builder that confers instant credibility, and there’s a huge demand for top talent in public accounting, with a severe shortage of skilled candidates.
Working for a public accounting firm, especially one of the Big Four or a large regional firm, offers other advantages as well: competitive pay and benefits, an opportunity to work with prestigious clients, continuing education and career development, support earning your CPA license, and, in many cases, opportunities to travel and relatively stable employment. Once you have public accounting experience and have passed all four sections of the Uniform Certified Public Accountant Examination, you’ll find even more options for CPA jobs.
The downsides of public accounting firms? Often stressful work, somewhat rigid career paths and long hours, though public accounting firms are working to improve flexibility and work-life balance for their employees.
Here’s an example of an entry-level public accounting role:
Audit/Assurance Services (up to one year of experience)
Midpoint salary: $46,000 (see average starting salaries in the 2018 Robert Half Salary Guide)
Description: Entry-level staff members in audit and assurance services must hold a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Firms prefer those who have demonstrated they are working toward their CPA, have technical auditing and accounting knowledge, earned a good GPA, and possess Excel, time-management and presentation skills. Internship experience is valued, as well.
- Conducting audit field work in assigned areas
- Preparing audit reports
- Communicating findings and recommendations to senior management
Look for audit/assurance services opportunities in your city.
What positions are there in private industry?
Outside of public accounting, other professional on-ramps include positions in corporate or management accounting. One of the beauties of an accounting and finance career is the variety of options it affords with regard to different industries.
You can find entry-level accounting jobs at organizations ranging from family-owned companies to Fortune 500® firms. A frequently cited benefit of the private sector is that practitioners work in a true business partner role and have varied responsibilities.
Corporate accountants might be involved in everything from helping to negotiate a real estate transaction to managing federal and state tax issues and interacting with bankers. They also participate in value-creating activities, such as improving business processes, enhancing product profitability, evaluating possible acquisitions and overseeing systems upgrades. These responsibilities can also come with long hours and stressful demands, and job stability is closely tied to a company's ups and downs.
Here’s an example of an entry-level private accounting role:
Budget Analyst (up to 1 year of experience)
Midpoint salary: $50,000
Description: Organizations seek recent college graduates with accounting and finance degrees for this position. They also look for candidates with top-notch technical, analytical and communications skills, along with those who can handle multiple projects under deadline.
- Assisting the budget analyst manager in preparing the organization’s budget
- Helping departmental managers with preparation and monitoring of budgets
- Performing other projects as assigned
Look for budget analyst jobs in your city.
How about positions in financial services?
Commercial banking offers another path for finance professionals who work at a bank branches in jobs ranging from bank teller and retail loan officer to branch manager, commercial credit analyst and commercial banker. At corporate headquarters, there's the opportunity to expand into international trade finance, risk management, credit administration and investment management.
In investment banking, in-demand specialties include private equity accounting, hedge fund accounting, fund administration, trade clearance and settlement operations, asset management, and collateral and derivatives expertise. You could facilitate the issuance of securities and make these securities available for investors to purchase. You could also offer investment advice to corporations and individual investors, handle mergers and acquisitions, and trade stocks, bonds and other securities.
Here’s an example of an entry-level accounting role in financial services:
Hedge Fund Accountant (1 to 3 years of experience)
Midpoint salary: $48,000
Description: For this entry-level role, firms look for detail-oriented team players who have at least one year of experience in investment accounting, product controller work, auditing, accounts payable/accounts receivable or budgeting and experience with financial products. A bachelor’s degree in finance or accounting is required.
- Analyzing fund performance on daily and monthly basis
- Reconciling funds cash and positions to outside sources
- Performing month-end close processes and preparing financial statements
- Working with auditors to prepare and present year-end financial accounts
Look for hedge fund accounting jobs in your city.
Government, healthcare and nonprofit sectors
Healthcare finance jobs offer a dynamic industry for skilled accounting, finance and revenue cycle professionals. You may take an entry-level role as a medical billing professional and work up to be a supervisor, manager, director, and vice president of revenue cycle.
Another choice is to work in the not-for-profit arena, which can offer practitioners an opportunity to combine altruism with a love for accounting.
Opportunities to land your first job also exist in the government sector, whether at the federal, state or local level. Hiring in the regulatory arena, in particular, has been steady at agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).
These employers offer the opportunity to do challenging, meaningful work and are known for offering job stability, excellent benefits and retirement plans that often include pensions.
What's the downside? Although the pay may be competitive, there's not as much potential for long-term salary growth as there is in public accounting or in the private sector, and the government office culture isn't for everyone.
Seeking entry-level accounting jobs
Whatever path you choose to start your professional journey, you can be assured it won't be limiting. From entry-level accountant to CFO or partner, in private or public accounting, nonprofits, government or healthcare jobs, accountants can enjoy a highly versatile career.
The biggest challenge for you as you seek entry-level accounting jobs with no experience may be finding your unique niche among the many opportunities available to you. Start exploring the possibilities, and you may find just what you're looking for.